A passionate protester says she fears civil liberties are being taken away by proposals to charge campaign groups for demonstrating.
Christine Hillier, who has exercised her right to march since the late 1950s, is taking part in the Campaign against Climate Change in central London this Saturday, while a stand against male violence to women and girls is organised for the same day.
But Ms Hillier, of Herbert Street, Hemel Hempstead was appalled to discover that the marches could be made illegal if groups failed to pay thousands of pounds each to cover the cost of overseeing the events, which could be outsourced to private firms by the Metropolitan Police force.
The issue has been dubbed a ‘logistical’ one by Hemel Hempstead MP and policing minister Mike Penning, as the Met has said it now has to fund traffic management and stewarding measures for demonstrations.
Ms Hillier, who is a member and former local chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and also a member of Liberty, said: “People have called protesters a danger, provocateurs or possibly even terrorists, but we have always had the right to protest.
“I am absolutely livid. I have been marching since the late 1950s, I still march and I intend to go on marching, and if they ban it I will still march.
“That is the feeling of lots of people in protest groups – it’s a case of can’t pay, won’t pay. “This will mean only the wealthy can march, but when do the wealthy have cause to march?”
The Met’s Ch Supt Colin Morgan told national media: “This is not a case of police charging for their services, but more a matter of refusing to use the public purse to provide a traffic management plan or stewarding for a private event.”
The charges for this weekend’s demonstrations have since been lifted but campaigner Ms Hillier says she believes that this may be enforced for future protests, particularly after the General Election in May.
Ms Hillier, who says she has organised coachloads of supporters for various marches from the Dacorum area over the years, added: “It’s a case of buy a march, or steal a march. This is an attack on basic civil liberties – values like this are very much a part of our democracy.
“The police have a public service ethos and part of that is a duty to protect our rights for peaceful protest. Will they charge football match promoters for policing, or householders 999 callouts for burglaries?”
This is an attack on basic civil liberties – values like this are very much a part of our democracy.Christine Hillier, Hemel Hempstead